Catering Uniforms Through The Ages

We’re all more than familiar with the traditional image of a professional chef. When asked to picture one most of us instantly think of a white jacket, checked pants and a tall, white crested hat. If that’s what you’d think of, you’re not too far off. Like school uniforms, catering uniforms have changed very little throughout history, says Though few chefs still wear the big white hat (or toque) whilst cooking, the rest of the uniform remains spot on. Visit any professional kitchen in Britain and you’ll find that the catering uniforms worn by members of staff do indeed include a starched white jacket and regulation black pants. The question is –where did this uniform come from and why is it still worn today?

catering uniforms

The history of the traditional catering uniform is a long and interesting one. It is thought to date back to the 16th century and was not initially a product of hygiene as you might expect, but a result of the French persecution of Protestant artisans. According to Stefani Pollock from, a lot of French artisans, including chefs, were extremely freethinking. Unfortunately, a lot of them were also imprisoned or executed for their free thinking, liberal natures. Those who managed to escape the authorities sought refuge in the Orthodox Church and hid amongst the priests by aping their outfits. Many refugee cooks began to wear tall hats and long, close fitting robes during this time.

It does make sense to think that the first chef’s uniforms might not have been created for reasons of hygiene. After all, people didn’t understand the nature of bacteria and infection back in the 16th century – they still believed that illness was carried and caught via bad odours. 16th century chefs certainly wouldn’t have seen any need to adhere to the very strict levels of kitchen and food hygiene that we adhere to these days.

However, in the mid 1800’s a chef by the name of Marie-Antoine Carême decided to utilise this makeshift catering uniform for the employees in his own kitchen. He redesigned the uniform, making it white in order to show just how clean his kitchen happened to be. It is widely believed that Carême also came up with the idea for the traditional chef’s hat or toque. He used it to represent status in the kitchen – the taller your hat, the more important your job. Carême’s own hat is thought to have been at least 18 inches tall!

During the latter years of the 19th century, a chef by the name of George Augustus Escoffier began to make waves in France, say experts at the Prue Leith Chef’s Academy. He was greatly influenced by the work of Carême but is, himself, considered to be history’s first great chef. Even today, he continues to be a figure of great importance to many professional cooks. Escoffier was really the first chef to consider the cleanliness of a cook’s uniform – his staff members were required to maintain clean and complete uniforms at all times and were encouraged to wear their coats and ties even whilst at home.
Little has changed since the days of Escoffier’s kitchen. Catering uniforms are now worn primarily for hygiene reasons. They are manufactured to be very durable, very flexible and to be able to withstand extreme temperatures. In the 1950’s the traditional cloth toque was replaced with a paper one that could be disposed of and replaced easily if it became soiled. These days, the rules aren’t quite as stringent as they perhaps used to be. Some cooks choose to wear coloured or patterned catering uniforms instead of the traditional white ones, like those found at Largely though, things remain the same and why shouldn’t they? There is no uniform better suited to a chef’s job than the uniform that he or she wears today.

Author Bio: Chris Carter has been an apprentice chef in a London kitchen for two years. He gets his catering uniforms from Matrix Uniforms. Chris takes great pride in his uniform and loves to keep it clean and presentable.

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